Mercedes Wildgoose, 74, says her heart is broken. She gave $3,000 to a charity that claimed to help abused children -- it turned out to be a fraud.
"I've seen many times if it's too good to be true, don't believe it," Wildgoose said, "but with my heart I still went ahead and did this kind of thing."
After more than 20 complaints, Florida's attorney general closed down Global Mindlink Foundation. But it's only one of hundreds of charities across the country being investigated for scam tactics, most involving telemarketers preying on people at home.
"A legitimate group that's really offering good programs to help people does not need to scare people to give," said charity expert Daniel Bochoroff.
Each year, Americans lose more than $20 billion to charity fraud. With the spirit of giving running high at the holidays, experts warn shady fundraising is common.
Carolyn Clements is a finance manager who lives in Virginia. Her family, like millions of others, wants to give money to a good cause. "I want to be able to be sure what I have," Clements said, "but I also want to make sure what I'm giving is going to proper people that deserve it."
Know Where the Money Goes
Clements said this year she's going to do her homework, which experts say is the most important thing to do. They recommend:
Check Web sites like Guidestar.org and Charitywatch.org, which give A to F grades to charities based on how effectively they use the money they're given.
Pay by check, not by cash.
Give to American charities when donating to an international cause.
Don't assume you know the organization because it has a familiar name. There are many look-alike scams out there.
For example, it is easy to confuse Save the Children -- a well-run organization -- with Feed the Children, a group that experts say is less efficient.
Also pay particular attention to groups claiming to represent emergency services.
"The police and firefighter groups have very similar names," Bochoroff said, "and people are more likely to give in response to a police or firefighter solicitation than any other type of solicitation."
Nothing will replace the hard-earned money that Wildgoose lost to the scam charity. But despite being a victim of fraud, she hasn't lost her desire to give.
"I will survive," she said, "because I have what's called hope and faith, and this is Christmas."